In extremely bowler-friendly conditions, Sri Lanka started the first Test strongly but were gasping for survival by the finish, bringing a fascinating game to an exciting end. Even though a majority of the first two days was badly affected by the weather, fortunes swung one way, then the other before India showed who was the boss.
This was perhaps Sri Lanka’s best chance to record a maiden Test win in India. Dinesh Chandimal won a crucial toss on a grassy, damp surface but apart from Suranga Lakmal, the other seamers didn’t make the kind of impact they should have. The Eden surface has been a fast bowler’s ally since it was re-laid more than a year and a half back, but Sri Lanka frittered away a golden opportunity after excellent work by the ground staff ensured prompt start of play once the rain stopped.
As difficult as the conditions were, India will be disappointed with some of their choice of shots in both innings. Cheteshwar Pujara showed with his application and grit in the first innings that the surface was anything but unplayable. Shikhar Dhawan, K.L. Rahul and the gifted Virat Kohli stamped their class in the second innings, and India will have learnt valuable lessons ahead of a challenging 2018 when they have away series lined up in South Africa, England and Australia.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami were outstanding throughout the match. With Umesh Yadav somewhat off-colour, Bhuvi and Shami stepped up to embrace responsibility. Bhuvi extended his white-ball form to red-ball cricket, his excellent wrist position and the ability to land the ball on the seam being wonderful virtues on any track. Now that he has added a couple of yards of pace and has zeroed in on the right lengths for different pitches, he has become an even more dangerous customer.
Shami started off a little gingerly, which is perhaps understandable, but the more he bowled, the better he visibly got. Unlike Bhuvi, who relies a little more on swing, Shami is a hit-the-deck kind of bowler, which was what was needed on this Eden surface. These two and Umesh, who I am sure will bounce back strongly, will be crucial to India’s plans next year.
Kohli must be commended for breaking open the game on the final day when he could so easily have allowed it to drift. He is now in that rare club of batsmen with 50 international tons, and is rapidly evolving into an excellent, attacking leader.
Another half-hour of play, and India could now be sitting on a 1-0 lead.